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Bible Commentaries

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Psalms 58

Psalms 58

THE Psalmist describes his enemies in the first strophe, Psalms 58:1-5 as unrighteous, mischievous, utterly corrupt, hardened and seared, and in the second strophe first builds upon this their condition his prayer to the Lord, that he would overthrow them, Psalms 58:6, then elevates himself, Psalms 58:7-11, to the joyful hope, that this shall be done, to the joy of all the righteous, and to the glory of God.

The Psalm is of similar character and contents to those of the preceding and following, which have respect to David’s relations in the Sauline period; already the אל תשחת of the superscription shows, that we must not separate it from them; the manner in which the Psalmist here expresses himself, entirely agrees with the expressions of David during the period in question, recorded in history; comp. for ex. 1 Samuel 26:10, 1 Samuel 24:13; characteristic in this point of view is the prominence giving to the speaking of lies, by the enemies, in Psalms 58:3. Against the authorship of David, and in the time specified, and in favour of the hypothesis, that the Psalm contains “the complaint of a Jew over unrighteous judges,” whether foreign or domestic, at the time of the exile, stress has been laid on the circumstance of “unrighteous judges” being spoken of in ver. 1. As if David had not, during the Sauline period, been made to underlie an unrighteous judgment—as if even then his judges had not been his persecutors, and every thing had not been ordered so, as to conceal the persecution behind the appearance of a righteous judgment. But that the unrighteous judges meant are not of the common stamp, appears from this, that they are spoken of as at the same time the personal enemies of the Psalmist, who persecute him for the purposes of their own hatred, whereas it is a standing trait in regard to common unrighteous judges, that through bribery they pervert judgment, comp. for ex. Isaiah 5:23, and therefore are not impelled by hatred, but by self-interest.

Verses 1-5

To the Chief musician, destroy not, of David, a secret. Ver. 1. Are ye then indeed dumb, that ye will not speak, what is righteous, and judge what is upright, ye children of men? Ver. 2. Even in the heart ye commit iniquities, in the land your hands weigh out unrighteousness. Ver. 3. The wicked go astray from the mother’s lap, err from the mother’s womb the speakers of lies. Ver. 4. Poison have they like serpent’s poison, like a deaf adder he stops his ear. Ver. 5. Which hears not the voice of the charmer, of the conjurer, who can conjure well. The Psalm begins with an address to the wicked, Psalms 58:1 and Psalms 58:2, but he presently perceives, that he can make nothing of them, that they are perfectly hardened, and deaf to all admonition, and so, in what follows, he speaks of them, and brings out this distinctive mark of their condition. The expression: Are ye then indeed, in Psalms 58:1, points to the unheard of and incredible nature of the fact, that judges should be dumb in regard to righteous judgment—which is a contradiction, especially in respect to Deuteronomy 1:16-17—and admonishes, that they might still bethink themselves. אלם occurs only once besides, in Psalms 56 supers., and indeed in the sense of being dumb. That this is here also to be retained, appears from the mention of deafness, in Psalms 58:4-5: they are dumb when they should speak, deaf when they should hear, comp. Psalms 38:14, where אלם and חרש likewise occur united. The abstract stands emphatically in place of the adj. dumbness, for quite dumb. In the following words the sphere is indicated, in which the dumbness operates: that ye speak, etc., in reference to the speaking. מישרים , uprightness, which is never used adverbially, comp. on Psalms 17:2, is q. d. and upright judgment, comp. Ew. § 486. The first member is expounded by many: speak you actually dumb judgment. But the paraphrase of Stier: “Would ye (not at length, as always in duty bound) bring to utterance the (alas! long enough) dumb judgment,” shows what the Psalmist must have said, if he had wished to express this meaning. The not must then have been here, the indeed must have been awanting, as Gesen. would, for the sake of this interpretation, thrust it out of the text. The doubting question: speak ye then in reality dumb judgment, would imply that there was at least the appearance of a return to the righteousness, that had been renounced, which, however, we cannot imagine. The exposition of Maurer, who presses upon אלם the sig. of pactum, faedus, and the conjecture of Ewald, who would read אלים , “ye gods,” are to be rejected on the ground alone of the correspondence here between “the dumbness” and “the deafness” in Psalms 58:4 and Psalms 58:5. The expression: “Ye children of men,” reminds the high ones of the earth of the higher, to whom they must give an account, and has therefore the import of a grounding to the call to righteous judgment: if the children of men are dumb when they should speak, God will then speak with them, comp. the Elohim in Psalms 58:6 and Psalms 58:11, and the contrast between Jehovah and the children of men in 1 Samuel 26:19, as also the children of men, who oppose the Psalmist, and Elohim, who helps him, in Psalms 57:4. Arnd: “From this we see and learn that the persecuted Christians have no audience and no help with worldly and spiritual jurisdictions when false doctrine is in vogue; though men should there declare and speak, still they are dumb; though the cause also be ever so good, yet no one will open his mouth, and lend a good word in its behalf. Hence the Holy Spirit asks them, through the mouth of David, whether there is right, namely, in speaking against righteousness and truth.”

In Psalms 58:2 the positive is added to the negative. אף is not a particle of gradation, but is used in its common sig. of also, comp. on Psalms 18:48, Psalms 44:9: Ye omit what ye ought to do, also ye do what ye ought to omit. The opposite of the: “ in heart,” consists, not of: “in the land,” but of: “your hands.” The expression: “ye do wickedness in the heart,” instead of meditating evil in the heart, points here, as in Micah 2:1, to there being also actions of the heart, which God will bring into judgment. The words: “ye weigh out the unrighteousness of your hands,” contains an abbreviated comparison: instead of the righteousness, which, as the judges appointed by God, ye ought to weigh out, (comp. the mention of the balance of righteousness, in Job 31:6,) ye practise injustice זרו in Psalms 58:3 is pret. Kal. To “the wicked” we must supply: in the number of whom are my enemies. What makes the human corruption so dreadful is the fact of its growing out of original sin, comp. on Psalms 51:6, and consequently it has its root in the inmost depths of the heart. Those, with whom nature is allowed free scope to develope itself, as it will, and who shut out grace from access to their heart, must attain to a ripeness in sinning, which would be incredible if nature were originally, and still predominantly good. The opposite are not such as have been corrupt from their mother’s womb, and who are not so now, but between those in whom the corruption common to all has uninterruptedly developed itself, and those in whom the development has been hemmed in and broken through. That the inborn depravity is quite a general one, extending over the whole family of man, appears from Genesis 8:21, the confession of David himself in Psalms 51:6, and Job 14:4. Arnd: “The godless are wayward from their mother’s womb, from their childhood upwards there is nothing good in them; the godly, although they also are conceived and born in sin, yet live in the new birth, in daily repentance.”

In Psalms 58:4 חמת stands in stat. cons. before the preposition, on account of the close connection. The second half of Psalms 58:4 and Psalms 58:5 describes, by way of gradation, their poisonousness: the serpents, on whom the charmers can make no impression, (comp. on the charming of serpents my Egypt and Books of Moses, p. 97, ss.) are the most poisonous—instead of נח‍?שׁ? there is here פתן . What the ineffectual charms are in reference to the excessively poisonous serpent, that are with the venomous and wicked man the prayers and entreaties of those, who suffer injury from him and his friends, as an example of which we have only to think of David’s representations to Saul, and Jonathan’s intercessions, both so persuasive, that their fruitlessness presents to our view the wickedness of Saul, which is a reflection of man’s generally, as a deep abyss. Not only, however, does the resemblance hold in regard to such prayers and entreaties, but also to the admonitions of the servants of God, and last of all, to the reproofs and warnings, which God himself brings to bear on men through their conscience. How powerfully these resounded in the dark soul of Saul, may be seen in the conviction often uttered by him, that David, upheld by God, would escape his persecutions and gain the day. But although his conscience called to him aloud, that his striving was wrong and to no purpose, the strength of wickedness in him was so great, that he could not de” which stops its ear”), but the wicked. The stopping requires hands, and what is already deaf by nature has no need to stop. It is just by means of stopping, that the wicked make themselves like the deaf adder. Arnd: “As we see in the history of the holy martyr Stephen. When he made his confession before the ecclesiastical council at Jerusalem, and said: ‘Lo I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God,’ to the Jewish prelates that was so insufferable a testimony, that in order to retain their poison, they stopt their ears, and cried aloud.”

Verses 6-11

There follows in Psalms 58:6-11 the prayer and the confidence. Ver. 6. God, break their teeth in their mouth, the tusks of the young lions break in pieces, O Lord. Ver. 7. They shall dissolve as waters, flow away: he takes aim with his arrows, as if they were cut in pieces. Ver. 8. As a snail which melts away, he vanishes, as an abortion they behold not the sun. Ver. 9. Before your pots feel the thorn, raw or sodden, he shall carry him off as by a storm. Ver. 10. The righteous will rejoice, because he sees vengeance, his steps bathe in the blood of the wicked. Ver. 11. And men will say: truly fruit hath the righteous, truly God judges in the earth. At the beginning of Psalms 58:6 Elohim is used, because the Psalmist raises himself up from the children of men to God. On the expression: break their teeth, Arnd: “There is here described the great hatred and wrath of the enemies toward the church of God. They are as the hungry and ravenous lions. So vehement is their feeling toward us, that if God had permitted them, they would have swallowed us up bodily.” מלתעות is etymologically the correct, but unusual form for מתלעות .

That the fut. in Psalms 58:7, ss. are to be taken as expressive of hope and confidence, appears from the pretor. proph. חזו in Psalms 58:8.—ימאסו from מאס , instead of יִ מַ סּ וּ? . The subject in יתהלכו is not the waters, but the wicked. This appears from למו an ironical dat. comm.; they shall have this thereby, that they flow away. דרךְ? , to bend, for, to fit in a bent form. The arrows are, as to the effect to be shot off, as if they were cut, deprived of their heads and blunted. Such hope could spring up in David only from a living faith. If he viewed the matter without this, the thought which pressed upon him must have been: “his arrows are sharp, they pierce the heart of the enemies of the king.”—תמס in Psalms 58:8 is the 3d fem. of the abbreviated fut. of &מסה מסס . The subject in יהלךְ? is the wicked. Instead of: as the snail, which melts away, dissolves, he vanishes, many: as the snail which meltingly vanishes, properly, which walks dissolution. But שבלול can hardly be masc., there is no such noun as תבס , to walk dissolution is very hard, and so also is that which must be supplied by this rendering: they shall be. Before נפל we are not precisely to supply like, but it is to be explained: as a (spiritual) abortion. The subject in חזו is not the singular נפל (many: beholds not the sun), but those, who are the subject both before and after, the wicked. The preterite is to be explained from the confidence of faith. The wicked are so far like an abortion, as they, like it, are hurried away by an untimely and violent death, do not see the sun. Job 3:16 rests upon this passage. Job, the righteous there wishes for himself the fate of an abortion, which is here predicted of the wicked as a punishment; so God appears to exchange with each other the fates of the righteous and the wicked.

In Psalms 58:9 the discourse at first addresses the ungodly, as in Psalms 58:1 and Psalms 58:2, but soon it becomes more placid again, and speaks of them: he shall overthrow him, whereas from the commencement we would have expected: you. On the words: before your pots feel the thorn, the Berleb Bible: “that is, before the fire thereof, which quickly burn and heat, has got fairly within, before the flesh in your pots has become warm or ready, that is, your plans shall at an early period be destroyed or executed.” כמו־כמו as well—as חי and חרון , prop. glow, then glowing heat, refers to the contents of the pots, the flesh, which is boiled in them. As here in poetry, חי and חרון , so in 1 Samuel 2:15 are חי , living or raw, and מבשל , boiled. To the raw flesh correspond the unripe plans, to the sodden the ripe. The expression: be it raw, be it sodden or ready, is, q. d. without taking any account of this, whether ye have finished your cooking, and not good-humouredly granting the necessary time for your executing your projects against the righteous. It means without any thing farther at once: away with you,—and however painful it will also be to you, to find all your preparations in vain, however hard to eat what you have boiled, God makes no account of it, as Saul must do before he carries his designs against David into execution. The subject in ישׂ ערנוּ? is the Lord, and the suffix refers to the wicked; this is evident from Job 27:21, referring to our passage: “The east wind carrieth him away, and he departeth, and as a storm hurleth him out of his place.” It is not the flesh-pot that is torn away from the wicked, but the wicked from his flesh-pot, his projects, on which the history of Saul gives the best commentary. The other expositions are to be rejected. Against Luther’s: Before your thorns are ripe in the thorn-bush, besides many other grounds, it is decisive that thorns are always סירים , never רירות ; excepting Amos 4:2, where it is used of an instrument like a thorn, it always signifies pots. Against the exposition: “before your pots perceive the thorn, as green as burning, they are plucked away,” it is to be objected, amongst other grounds, that חי is never used of green thorns, nor in any similar import.

On the expression: because he sees vengeance, in ver. 10, comp. 1 Samuel 24:12, where David says to Saul, “The Lord judge between me and thee, and the Lord avenge me of thee; but my hand shall not be upon thee.” How the vengeance should be an object of joy to the righteous, viz. because of the manifestation given in it of the judgment and righteousness of God, of the nourishment which his knowledge and fear of God draws from it, appears from Psalms 58:11. On the second member, Arnd: “That he shall bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked, is not to be understood literally, as if the fearers of God must avenge themselves by the shedding of blood, or have pleasure therein; but so, that if they entreat vengeance of God, God wonderfully vindicates their cause. When Saul fell upon his sword, sore pressed by the Philistines, that was God’s vengeance, and David bathed his feet in the blood of the wicked, and incurred no guilt by Saul’s destruction. When Ahab was shot in the battle, so that his blood ran through the chariot, and the dogs licked it, that also was God’s vengeance, and the prophet Elias bathed his feet in the blood of the wicked.”—אךְ? in Psalms 58:11, stands as a particle of assurance: only, it is not otherwise, than so. The plural in שפטים springs with that in אלהים from one root, comp. on Psalms 11:6. The general name of God stands in opposition to אדם , “ men recognize God as judge,” but at the same time also in contrast to the sons of men at the beginning, to which the close refers back: God exercises on earth the righteous judgment; which they withhold.

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Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Psalms 58". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms.